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January 8, 1998

Project designing ways to increase international aspects of life at the University

An executive from Kennametal Corp. recently asked Burkart Holzner, director of Pitt's University Center for International Studies (UCIS), for help in recruiting personnel for a German company that Kennametal had acquired.

"How many metallurgical engineers has Pitt graduated recently who are fluent in German?" the executive asked.

Holzner did some checking. The answer, as he expected, was: zero.

Lost opportunities such as that one reinforce Holzner's belief that Pitt must expand and deepen its international teaching and research.

"In the business world we live in, a high level of international competence is now a requirement, not just a nice thing to have," Holzner said.

To help ensure that Pitt students acquire such competence — and to boost the University's international fundraising, alumni relations, development projects, and training programs for foreign students and government officials — Holzner proposed the ambitious International Development Project (IDP).

Dozens of Pitt professors, staff members and administrators have been serving since last spring on IDP task forces on undergraduate education, international training programs and international development projects.

H.J. Zoffer, dean emeritus of the Katz Graduate School of Business and senior counselor to IDP, is preparing a business plan that will detail how the task forces' goals would be financed. The plan is due to Provost James Maher this spring, in time for its recommendations to be considered in the fiscal year 1998-99 budget.

In a memo last summer to members of the task forces, Zoffer wrote: "While academia does not like to view itself as a 'business' and most often prefers 'strategic plan' to 'business plan,' the unvarnished truth is that in these times new projects need to justify themselves as either creating their own resources or being sufficiently worthy to warrant reallocating existing resources in their direction and away from some other project." Zoffer noted, ruefully: "We have all served on committees and task forces where hard work has led to a series of high quality outcomes, which are either not implemented at all or are delayed so long in being considered that the recommendations are no longer relevant." IDP Project Manager Elaine Linn was more blunt. "The idea is that these aren't just another bunch of lame-duck task forces," she emphasized. "This project is different, in that it will have a solid business plan behind it." "Not only is it different," Provost Maher told the University Times, "but I can assure you that we are talking about raising money [through IDP], not losing money. So the business plan and each of the individual projects will be oriented toward determining what investment we need to make upfront, in order to create a stable system that will pay for itself and, in many cases, return money to the faculties of the schools that initiate the programs." Such income, Maher and Holzner said, would come from tuition from foreign students, donations from international alumni ("Pitt has not done a very good job at all of cultivating its alumni overseas," Holzner said) and grants from U.S. and foreign banks and development organizations — although both men emphasized that IDP is not a money-making project per se.

"The project has got to add to the University's teaching, research and service missions," Maher said.

The provost predicted that if IDP is successful, five years from now most Pitt undergraduates will: * Be urged to spend at least one semester studying outside the United States. Currently, only about 400 Pitt undergrads each year study abroad, although that's double the number who were studying abroad four years ago.

* Encounter more foreign-born undergrads in their classes. "Clearly, Pitt enrolls a significant number of international students in its graduate programs, but right now we only have a couple of hundred undergraduates who are from foreign countries," Maher said. "I think it would be a reasonable goal to double that number over the next five years." * Benefit both from faculty who bring more international experience to the classroom, and academic programs that have been enriched by international fundraising.

As part of an effort to make the University more welcoming to foreign students, Pitt probably will create an "international house" as a center for social and academic activities, Maher said. "It's being discussed very actively, and there is some chance that we'll have such an international house next year on the [Pittsburgh] campus," the provost said. As Pitt grows increasingly "internationalized," the University may begin posting campus signs in languages other than English, Holzner said. "That's just an example of the kinds of things Pitt can do to make this a more welcoming and comfortable environment for international students," he said.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 30 Issue 9

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